By Daryl Crouch
Words are the currency of ministry for every local church pastor.
We read and study the Bible, the Word of God. We prepare sermons and lessons filled with words. We cast vision and give counsel with well-placed words.
We share the gospel using words. We read books and may even try to write one or two. Words fill our lives, and how we use them helps to shape our kingdom impact.
Pastors also hear a lot of words.
While attending a community event a few years ago, two individuals approached me separately. Both leaned over, nodded across the room, and whispered something like, “You need to watch out for that guy. He’s trouble.”
Neither of these individuals are church members, but because I was a local pastor, they wanted to share some important information with me.
Pastors also hear personal information from people in the church. Whether it’s in a formal counseling session or in a casual conversation, people want to confide in pastors.
And then we also hear information about people from a wide variety of sources about a wide variety of topics—inside and outside our theological tribes.
Over time, pastors accumulate a treasure chest of information, which most often should remain closed shut and locked away forever.
Sharing confidential or unnecessary information, however, is often too great a temptation for many pastors.
Too often, we become guilty gossips against the warnings of Proverbs 11:13: “A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.”
So what’s the appeal? Why do pastors gossip?
1. Pastors gossip to chase relationships.
Much of ministry rises or falls on the quality of the relationships we forge.
When Jesus began His public ministry, He invited 12 men to come closer and to follow him. He shared things with them that He shared with no one else.
As pastors we follow Jesus’ model and seek out meaningful relationships with other people. Jesus, however, built His relationship with the disciples on the gospel and on accomplishing the will of the Father.
Pastors often take a wrong turn when we attempt to build trust with one person by breaking the trust of another.
Rather than establishing a relationship around our common love for Jesus and commitment to the gospel, we often attempt to win over people by our access to privileged information.
As a result, not only are the relationships we seek weakened from the start, but the trust we’ve earned from others is comprised as well.
2. Pastors gossip to promote themselves.
Trust is earned through faithful, effective work over time. Sometimes pastors attempt to bypass the taxing process of earning trust by sharing information that should not be shared.
When I tell you confidential information, I remind you of how important I am to other people who have trusted me.
Since they view me as important, you should too. And as I share insider information with you, I’m inviting you to be important like I am.
The prophet Isaiah warned about this kind of plotting: “Woe to those who consider themselves wise and judge themselves clever” (Isaiah 5:21).
It’s not uncommon for religious leaders to fall prey to arrogant attitudes of the heart that result in wounding our ministry peers and the people we’re called to serve.
Too often we view ourselves more important than we are, and make efforts to ensure others view us with respect we have not yet earned.
3. Pastors gossip to pursue sinful desires.
We do not have to say everything that’s true, but pastors often forget the weight of our words as we pursue sinful desires.
“The one who has knowledge restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a person of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27).
On occasion, people approach me and say, “Hey pastor, I remember when you said …”
That always stops me in my tracks because I don’t always remember what I said, and I’m not always confident that what they remember I said will represent Jesus or me very well.
A pastor’s words, whether in a sermon, in a meeting, or in a water cooler conversation, always carry more weight.
So when pastors share personal information, we discount the weight, the sacred trust, we’ve been given, and instead lapse into a common or vulgate form of speech that appeals to one’s basest appetite for gossip.
“A gossip’s words are like choice food that goes down to one’s innermost being” (Proverbs 18:8).
Insider information can be intoxicating, but this information is not given to pastors for our advantage, but for the advantage and service of those entrusted to our care.
Jesus and the Cost of Good Shepherding
In John 10, Jesus used shepherding language as he described the ambition of the devil to steal, kill, and destroy his followers.
He called the devil and his evil forces predatory wolves and his followers vulnerable sheep.
And then Jesus contrasted Himself with the cowardice hired hand with this amazing declaration and promise:
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).
I’ve noticed that personal information about others very often costs me something. It may cost me the emotional burden I carry for others who are suffering. Sometimes I lose leadership equity by remaining silent.
Still at other times, my devotion to Jesus and other personal loyalties are brought into question because I refuse to share what I know.
Those are small sacrifices compared to how Jesus shepherds us. He gave the ultimate sacrifice for what he knew was true about us. And he suffered for the joy set before him.
In a similar way, pastors are called to shepherd the flock of God among us and our co-laborers in the gospel.
We should know our people well, and our people should know us well enough to know we’ll lay aside our reputation, our comfort, and our ambition to serve their good and ours.